2021 Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport review: price, specs and release date
The iconic Volkswagen Golf GTI has been outgunned by a raft of faster rivals, but now there’s a more potent Clubsport edition to fix this. Can it help the GTI regain its crown?...
Priced from £37,215 On sale Now
Diversification is what you need in order to grow your portfolio, and that's why traditional stocks and shares are now just as important as investing in cryptocurrency, or even designer shoes. Car buyers are a pretty diverse lot, too, which explains why there are now several hot versions of the Volkswagen Golf to satisfy all tastes and mop up additional sales.
You can still have it in GTI or real-world, road-going missile R guises, but now there’s a Clubsport model that splits the difference between the two. It's intended to bring some much needed lustre back to the GTI brand now that it’s been upstaged by more powerful rivals, especially the Honda Civic Type R, which remains one of our favourite hot hatches.
In order to achieve this, the Clubsport sports tweaked suspension, beefier brakes, trick aerodynamic aids and a serious hike in power over the standard GTI; up from 242bhp to 296bhp. So, do all these changes make the Clubsport the de facto fast Golf of choice, and can it retake its position as the best hot hatch around? Let’s find out.
What’s it like to drive?
Those alterations to the suspension bring a 10mm reduction in ride height, so you might anticipate the Clubsport to be uncomfortable along a knobbly B-road. Well, that actually isn’t the case, at least if you opt for Dynamic Chassis Control, which enables you to stiffen or slacken the ride to suit the road surface you’re on. If you dive into the drive mode menu and select the firmer Sport mode, you will feel blemishes to a greater degree than you would in the softer Comfort mode, but no matter which mode you’re in, the Clubsport generally rounds off the worst impacts from pockmarked Tarmac, potholes and various other imperfections, even with the larger 19in wheel option that our test car came on.
You can also adjust the steering in that same drive mode menu. Comfort mode is best left for town driving, where the wheel is light and easy to twirl when picking your way through traffic. Sport has a consistent heft to it that’s a pleasure through fast, sweeping bends, and complements the car's inherent steering accuracy. Also working away in the background is an electronic limited-slip differential; this helps to ensure traction is maintained in corners, enabling you to accurately trace your intended arc through the apex.
While you can have a choice of gearbox with the standard GTI, the Clubsport is available only with a seven-speed DSG automatic. That’s not such a bad thing; the GTI's manual can't match the precision of the Civic Type R's anyway. The DSG 'box can be a touch awkward in low-speed parking manoeuvres, but it generally provides rapid gearchanges once on the move. There are paddles behind the steering wheel for manual shifts, but because it’ll readily (and automatically) jump down a gear or two on inclines and when you brake on the approach to a bend, you’re rarely left floundering in the wrong gear with need to override it.
Speaking of slowing down, the brakes have been altered, too. The most noticeable difference is that the Clubsport's pedal travel is slightly greater than that of a normal GTI, but that simply allows you to more accurately gauge the right amount of braking for a given situation. Another distinction is that the brake discs are larger to better cope with the increased engine power.
That increase in power drops the 0-62mph time down to 5.6secs, making the Clubsport a little faster than the Civic Type R. The Clubsport is also the more relaxing car of the two to drive because its broader spread of shove from low revs doesn’t require you to thrash the engine in order to get the most from it.
What the extra muscle under the bonnet does expose is a deficit in traction compared with some of the Clubsport’s four-wheel drive rivals, such as marginally more expensive BMW M135i. Indeed, even the Civic Type R can put its power down in a slightly more tidy fashion than the Clubsport in similarly damp and cold conditions.
What’s it like inside?
As you’d expect, the alterations to the interior of the Clubsport are subtle compared with the standard GTI. You still get a pair of sports seats in the front with thick side bolsters to hold you in place, but this time they're dressed in a unique velour trim that’s grippier than the standard cloth.
Other than that, visibility, interior space and storage are all unchanged. If you want to know more about this, we’ve written about it in great detail in our dedicated Volkswagen Golf GTI review.
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